In every religion, practitioners offer prostration to God and their holy places as a sign of respect and offer homage to seek their guide for the pure body, mind, and soul and purify the mind, body, and speech.
There is a different way to prostrate and purify one’s delusion and lousy karma in Buddhism. In Buddhist teaching, it teaches that as long as we humans suffer from delusions, we are making terrible karma – intentionally and unintentionally – all the time, from morning to night. To counteract our wrong actions, we can engage in wholesome spiritual practices like reciting the different mantras or offering to the god or poor people and prostrations.
The benefit of prostration is that we can both purify some of our negativities and generate merit. An act of prostration purifies the mind, soul, and body. We usually prostrate on statues of god and goodness in entering a temple or the shrine room of nunnery and dharma institution. We also prostrate for religious masters as a sign of respect and purify one’s delusion through their blessing. There is no specific number of prostrations; some people do three, and some do a lakh. It will depend on the individual practitioner.
There are different ways of doing prostrations, and there is no wrongdoing of the prostration as long as you have a pure mind and sincere motivation to get rid of wrong thinking and negativities. There are three basics styles that one can do prostration based on their convenience. Gyanchag means the whole body of prostration. In Tibetan, Gyang refers to reaching out, and Chug means prostration. Kumchag means partial prostration, where we prostrate at our knees. In Tibetan, Kum means contraction of your body as opposed to reaching out.
Symbolic prostration is when with just the hand motions, which we do standing or sitting, most often, there is no space or room to do full-body prostration and offer homage.
Each style included the same basic hand motions at the beginning, which the practitioner needs to follow, joining the hands and touching them at three different places. Ku, as placing the folded hand on the crown of your head, which represents your body. Sung, as putting the folded hand at mouth or throat to designate as your speech. Thus, as placing the folded hand at heart to represent the mind.
While following this sequence, we seek to purify the evil deeds or karma caused by the action of our body and aspiring to all the good qualities of the Buddha’s body. Purify the evil deeds and karma caused by our speech and aspiring to all the good qualities of the Buddha’s speech. Purify the harmful deeds and lousy karma caused by our minds and aspiring to all the good qualities of the Buddha’s mind. For example, in the context of offering homage to Tara, prostrations are to be performed as follows:
You are bringing your hands together in the lotus sign and the base of the palm. The fingertips together and thumbs lightly tucked in and place them on the crown of the head, then to the throat and heart. As you put your hands on your crown heads, you offer homage to Tara’s enlightened body, purify defilements and obscuration incurred through the avenue of your body. At your throat, you offer tribute to her enlightened speech and establish potential belief. Bringing your hand to your heart, you offer homage to her enlightened mind, purify your mind’s obscuration and establish possible faith.
The actual prostration is performed by dropping the body forward and stretching its entire length on the floor, the arms outstretched in front. Again, with hands in the lotus bud, bend your arms back and touch your hands to the top of your head, a gesture that acknowledges the blessing flowing from TARA. Then stretch your arms out once more and push yourself up. Bring your hands into the lotus bud for the third time and touch your heart in a gesture of reverence. Then, with a smooth motion, bring your hands to your crown and perform the subsequent prostration.
This type of prostration is often done 3,7,21 or 108 or more than that.
Practitioners who use prostration mala or rosary can be used to facilitate counting. The most important is that while doing prostration, you need to pray for all sentient beings’ well-being and purify their body, speech, and mind. And work to better the sentient beings and imagine that you are offering homage to the thousands of gods and goodness at once. That will bring more merit to the prostration.
In Tibet, people from Kham and Amdo do prostration to Lhasa, where few of the most important holy places are situated, like Jokhang and Potala palace. It takes them months and months to reach Lhasa, and local people offer food and water on their way to Lhasa. Those who did prostration for years and years had the mark on their forehead. In Tibet, you can see that people do prostration in front of the Jokhang temple and around the temple and monastery daily despite the weather. Many people in Tibet do prostration at their home in morning and night as daily practices and recite the prayer and keep their count.
You can always recite mantras while prostrating or any common Tibetan prayers that you know: Om Mani Padme Hum is the mantra of Buddha of Compassion or Chenrigze in Tibetan, the Green Tatra, and other mantras.